Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO W. R. GREG, ESQ. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
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TO W. R. GREG, ESQ. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2 
Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville. Translated from the French by the translator of Napoleon’s Correspondence with King Joseph. With large Additions. In Two Volumes (London: Macamillan, 1861). 2 vols.
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TO W. R. GREG, ESQ.
Tocqueville, October 1, 1858.
My dear Sir,
You have sent me two numbers of the National Review. Of your two articles, one in particular so much struck me, that I wish to talk to you about it. This gives me an opportunity of thanking you, and of asking you for your news.
The article is that on the state of parties in England. It is as remarkable as are the phenomena which it proposes to explain.
Your picture of the evils which follow the destruction of great parties is strikingly true. I have witnessed them for fifteen years, and I can sincerely say that it is impossible to describe better the symptoms of that disease. The spectacle of the parliamentary world obeying no fixed rules, and seeming to wander under the guidance of individual interest—this spectacle long-continued, persuaded a portion of the French nation, that representative institutions exist for the benefit, not of the country, but of a few clever individuals. To the evils which you indicate, I will add one which you have not dwelt on, and which seems to me one of the greatest.
When there are no longer great parties, linked together by common interests and common passions, foreign affairs become almost always the principal matter for parliamentary action. They pass out of the hands of the Ministry, into those of the Houses of Parliament. The cause is obvious. The field of foreign politics is shifting; it has room for every parliamentary manœuvre. There are always to be found in it great questions which agitate the nation, on which public men can separate, re-unite, become enemies or friends, according to the interest or the passion of the moment. It seems to me an axiom, that in free countries, if there be no great parties, foreign affairs will be managed, not by the Ministers, but by the Assemblies.
Such a state of things endangers the dignity and the safety of a nation. More than any others, foreign affairs ought to be dealt with by only a few persons, consistently, and secretly. The assemblies should control, not act. But if foreign policy becomes the battle-field on which the fate of Governments is decided, the assemblies will inevitably take them into their own hands. You have indicated with great sagacity the conditions on which great, well-disciplined parties can exist in a free country. Each of them, as you well show, must represent one of the two great principles which for ever divide human societies, and may concisely be termed aristocracy and democracy. I am inclined to think with you that we shall not again see great organized parties in England until the Parliament is sharply divided on the question whether the few or the many are to govern; whether the pure doctrine of the numerical majority is to be substituted for the sovereignty of those who are conservative by their interests, and superior by their wisdom; whether Law or abstract Right is to prevail.
But I venture to think that the mere determination of public men that such shall be the state of things will not produce it, except under new circumstances and in new events. Will these circumstances and events take place in England? Have they already partially occurred? I should not dare to express an opinion without great timidity and hesitation. For who can fancy that he knows a foreign country? The natives are often too near to the details to see clearly the whole outline, but foreigners are always too distant to perceive the degree in which the particular modify the most general facts.
Paris, October 22, 1858.
P.S.—I began this letter three weeks ago. I had still much to say to you, but I fell ill, and came hither for medical advice. I am better, but still far from well, and my physicians send me to the South for the winter. My letter, therefore, must end as it now does; forgive me for keeping it so long. Some day, perhaps, I may be able to return to the subject. If you write, direct to me at Cannes.